Barack Obama gives keynote address at Memphis high school, views flood damage, and meets NCAA champs

May 17, 2011

On Monday afternoon, President Obama delivered the keynote graduation address to 150 cheering students at Booker T. Washington High School in flood-ravaged Memphis, Tennessee. Lillian Cunningham reports:

The [Booker T. Washington High School] class won the national Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge, and a claim to fame as the only school where the president will deliver a commencement address this year.

In his speech, the president told students “every commencement is a day of celebration,” and that “this one’s especially hopeful because some people say that schools like BTW just aren’t supposed to succeed in America.” The address moved from an administration-esque statement on the importance of improving U.S. education to more personal reflections on what he shared in common with the graduating class. “Education made all the difference in my life,” Obama said, also adding, “Not a single one of you had anything handed to you on a silver platter. You had to work for it. You had to earn it. ...You’ve shown more determination and grit in your childhoods than a lot of adults ever will.”

The president’s most succinct piece of graduation wisdom may have come toward the end of his speech, when he said “the greatest rewards come not from instant gratification but from sustained effort and hard work,” and when, quoting student Christopher Dean, he told the class “it’s not where you are or what you are, but who you are.”

Obama is also meeting with victims of the Mississippi River flood while he is in Tennessee Monday. Perry Bacon reports:

During the four-hour stop in Memphis, the president also is meeting with state and local officials to discuss the flooding that has stretched from Illinois to Louisiana. Water levels in Memphis crested at nearly 48 feet, forcing many residents to evacuate their homes.

More than halfway through his tenure, Obama’s two appearances in Memphis will be his first in the Volunteer State as president. Since his inauguration in 2009, the president has stopped in 38 states.

He has not visited Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah or Vermont.

After meeting state and local officials, Obama will return home to meet the NCAA basketball champs. The AP reports:

This evening, in the White House’s East Room, the president welcomes the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team, which won this year’s NCAA national championship. And later, he speaks at two events in Washington for the Democratic National Committee.

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